To the Swiftest Go the Spoils

WHEN YOU SEE WORDS like “estimate” and “90 percent” flung about without supporting data, it’s wise to assume you’re dealing with a guess landing somewhere between wild and educated.

But when no less than IBM does the flinging, I’m inclined to pay attention.

IBM recently suggested that 90 percent of all data has been produced within the last two years. Whether the statement is informed or speculative, and regardless of what they include (or don’t) in “all data,” the point is well taken. We are compiling data at breakneck speed. There is no reason to believe the trend will slow, and there is every reason to believe it will accelerate.

“Accelerate” is the operative word. Marketers aren’t just upping the speed and volume of data accrual. Sophisticated tools analyze on the fly, cutting response time to seconds. The goal? To show up on mobile devices in hopes of influencing customers in the very moment they are thinking about buying.

In an article by John Adams, Ross Christi, manager of LoyaltyEdge at American Express, has this to say: “The volume of data isn’t necessarily the challenge. It’s about using it intelligently and managing it in an efficient way.”

Keeping and analyzing customer data isn’t new. Savvy marketers have done it since the early days of direct mail, the original interactive medium. They didn’t call it data back then, but a rose is a rose. Data at the time pretty much consisted of name, address, purchase type, frequency, and average spend. In today’s interactive and mobile world, data comprise much more. And while at first it seemed as though privacy fears and laws would curtail data gathering, something interesting happened, and fast: consumers began volunteering the very data that fear-mongers had earlier convinced them marketers should not be allowed to obtain on their own. Mobile device users willingly reveal the merchants and products they like, where they’re shopping or dining at the moment, what UPCs they’re scanning, and more. Add up enough of those voluntary data points (and, for existing customers, overlay them with established buying preferences), and a picture emerges of who is where and thinking about buying what. Respond to the picture fast enough with a compelling offer sent to a mobile device, and you increase the odds of winning customers while they’re still at the point of purchase and, hopefully, still in a buying frame of mind.

Fear-mongers are still at work doing their best to decry fast-responding marketers as manipulative or sneaky. Nonsense. Sound marketing is a win-win. Marketers win by creating or growing customers. Customers win by receiving usefully timed information and offers on products they actually care about. And, of course, no data is shared without express permission from the customer.

John Knuff, general manager of global financial services for Equinix, said (as quoted by Adams), “What we are seeing now with intelligent targeting is more data mining is going on and happening within the customer session—so if a consumer is getting instructions on what to do to access or redeem an offer, a lot of the information to drive that has to be transferred in real time.” Knuff adds a caution: “… if the data set is on the West coast, but the session is on the East coast, the data has to traverse three to five vendors and has to travel three thousand miles several different times during that session. That’s really going to bog things down.”

Time has always been money. But in the marketing arms race, shaving—by even an insanely infinitesimal amount—the time it takes to turn data into a well-executed marketing response will give the marketer a serious advantage over competitors.

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